The unlearned lessons of history condemn present and future generations.
On the eve of America’s full involvement in the Vietnam War, a great soldier was laid to rest. The 84-year old Douglas Arthur MacArthur served in uniform for 52 years. Within that time, he participated in the United States occupation of Mexico, at Veracruz, served with distinction in World War I, led with distinction in World War II, and commanded United Nations troops in the Korean War’s opening days (1950-51). Between the two great wars, MacArthur served as the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, as Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army, and upon retirement, was appointed to serve as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army.
On 26 July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt federalized the Philippine Army and recalled Douglas MacArthur to active duty in the U. S. Army as a major general and appointed him Commander, U. S. Army Forces Far East (USAFFE). On 27 July 1941, Roosevelt advanced MacArthur to the rank of lieutenant general. In that capacity, MacArthur commanded 22,000 troops, of which 12,000 were Philippine Army scouts.
The United States plan for the defense of the Philippine Islands called for the massing of troops on the Bataan Peninsula to “hold out” against the Imperial Japanese Army until an American relief force could arrive. Of course, this decision suggests that the U. S. Government knew far more about Japanese intentions than they admitted publicly — the Japanese never attacked the United States until early December 1941. It causes one to question Japan’s sneak attack. The US government had to know in advance.
Washington’s “stop gap” plan for the Philippines resulted from America’s demobilization following World War I. General MacArthur was ordered to hold out against the Imperial Japanese until reinforced — knowing that there would be no reinforcements. The Washington plan for American and Philippine troops in the Philippine Islands was an overwhelming defeat — a sacrifice to garner the American people’s support for the United States’ entry into World War II.
But by then, on 7 December 1941, World War II had been in progress since 1 September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, and Great Britain and France declared war. Before General MacArthur was recalled to active duty from retirement, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It was a long and bloody war. Tens of millions of people died — those serving in uniform and the hapless civilians who simply got in the way of the belligerents. When the war was over, ending on 2 September 1945 with Japan’s unconditional surrender, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur stated succinctly:
“Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start, workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all, in turn, failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”
But the world’s politicians — and those “free men” who elected them — did not heed these words. How could they? These politicians, most of whom have never once placed themselves in harm’s way, had no frame of reference to the utter chaos of bloody confrontations. And so, following the second great war, the protectors of human liberty throughout the world, the victors of World War II, demobilized their armies and navies and went back to sleep.
It is true that, as with those who preceded them in earlier decades, the leaders of the “free world” gaped at the ghastly developments in Europe by the Soviet Union — and opted to do nothing. No one wanted another war. And once more, the ugly stain of appeasement was the United Nation’s only plan of action. Should they ignore these developments long enough, perhaps they would go away. When war came again in 1950, everyone was looking in the wrong direction.
Who knows what was going through Harry S. Truman’s mind during these critical moments in history, when global communists decided that the time was right to strike — while everyone, so weary of war, slept peacefully at home. In 1948, Mr. Truman was tightly focused on winning the Presidency on his own terms — to demonstrate that he was much more than President Roosevelt’s vice president; he was a man of the people. After his success in 1948, Truman refocused his attention on his presidential legacy. There would be no more war; he would not stand for it — and at Truman’s insistence, the American military was once again dismantled.
But war did come, and it was the incompetence of the Truman Administration that made it possible. Once again, Douglas MacArthur was taken down from the shelf, dusted off, and put into the field with an army that could not even defend itself, let alone an entire Peninsula the size of Korea. Many young Americans died unnecessarily because of Truman’s incompetence. Worse, Truman’s petty arrogance led him to dismiss the good advice he received from the man he commissioned to clean up the mess he created. By 1951, MacArthur’s patience had become thin, and in his frustration, he began to speak critically about Truman’s incredible ineptness. Under such circumstances, there was no other choice for the President — as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States — than to relieve MacArthur of his duties.
Soon after, during an invitation to address a joint session of Congress, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur spoke directly to America’s politicians. And he told them …
“… Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war, there is no substitute for victory.”
“There are some who, for varying reasons, would appease Red China. They are blind to history’s clear lesson, for history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier war. It points to no single instance where this end has justified that means, where appeasement has led to more than a sham peace. Like blackmail, it lays the basis for new and successively greater demands until, as in blackmail, violence becomes the only other alternative.”
“‘Why,’ my soldiers asked of me, ‘surrender military advantages to an enemy in the field?’ I could not answer. Some may say to avoid spread of the conflict into an all-out war with China; others, to avoid Soviet intervention. Neither explanation seems valid, for China is already engaging with the maximum power it can commit, and the Soviet will not necessarily mesh its actions with our moves. Like a cobra, any new enemy will more likely strike whenever it feels that the relativity in military or other potential is in its favor on a world-wide basis.”
“The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action is confined to its territorial limits. It condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment while the enemy’s sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation. Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description.” […]
“I have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have met all tests there, and I can report to you without reservation that they are splendid in every way. It was my constant effort to preserve them and end this savage conflict honorably and with the least loss of time and a minimum sacrifice of life. Its growing bloodshed has caused me the deepest anguish and anxiety. Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always.”
These politicians, too, along with Truman, failed to listen — failed to learn. Instead, they opted to involve the United States in yet another war of attrition, the defense of a nation that wanted neither their own freedom nor America’s version of it. They chose for the American people a defensive war that could not, from its very first day, be won. Once more, young Americans gave up their lives — for nothing. This, too, was part of Harry Truman’s worldview. He had the opportunity to engage in a productive discussion with Vietnamese nationalists in 1945 and opted instead to reimpose upon them French colonialism, paid for, at first, by the American taxpayer — adding later, American blood — at the direction of yet another Democrat who not only refused to allow the American military to win that Indochina war (noting that wars are not won through defensive strategies), but also a man who enriched himself from that war.
Now, forty-six years later, these lessons remain unlearned. The sheer ineptitude of a succession of presidents (of both political parties) has led us to this point in world history. We are, as a nation, no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave — we are, we have become, the land of appeasers.
The state of war that existed between the United States and North Korea in 1950 was never settled — so a state of war continues to exist with North Korea. In this context, we are only removed from extreme violence by mere seconds.
Next door, China proceeds to expand its influence in the South China Sea, creating island naval bases and declaring them sovereign territories of China. Chinese agents have infiltrated the United States — our corporations, universities, and our Congress. Chinese diplomats have brokered deals with many, if not most, Central and South American countries, throughout the African nations, and made lucrative arrangements among our so-called Middle Eastern “friends.” Once again, as danger lurks, American politicians — and the American people — are looking in the other direction.
What are America’s national interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia? What is it about any of these “nations” that is worth a pint of American blood? But if there were bona fide national interests, why have American politicians elected not to achieve them? Are our politicians so dense that they cannot understand that victory delayed or denied becomes even more ghastly and expensive over time?
We should also ask, “What are America’s domestic interests?” Shall we desire peace at home as much as we desire peace around the world? Are we doing anything worthwhile to achieve domestic peace and maintain it? In my judgment, the answer is no. Peace eludes us at home and abroad because we have not learned the lessons of history. We have not learned how to employ wisdom in choosing the men and women who chart our nation’s course. We have not learned the basics of human behavior. For instance, an enemy always seeks to advantage themselves by discovering our weaknesses. Why must we insist on helping our enemies to achieve their goals?
Yes, we must seek peace — but we must do so through strength. Whoever does not understand this has no business in Congress or any executive administration. Whoever does not understand this has no business voting in national elections.
I have hope for the future — but I do not delude myself about its prospects. A peaceful world is not an entitlement — it must be paid for, and as the price of freedom, the cost of peace is high. We have been willing to pay that price in the past, but recently, we have not been willing to protect and preserve that which has cost us dearly. We Americans, and I am speaking now about all of us, must be vigilant, we must be resolved, and our wisdom must be virtuous — if we ever find it.